The first high-level diplomatic talks between the Biden administration and Beijing got off to a tense start on Thursday as both sides traded barbs on each other’s actions and policies, highlighting the growing hostility in ties between the U.S. and China despite a new administration in Washington.
In what is the first face-to-face meeting between top officials since Biden took power, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the country’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday.
At the meeting, Blinken raised Washington’s “deep concerns” about China’s actions in its Xinjiang province, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the U.S. and its “economic coercion” of U.S. allies, noting that those actions threaten global stability.
Yang then shot back by slamming what he called the U.S.’s struggling democracy, poor treatment of minority groups and America’s use of “military force and financial hegemony” to suppress other countries, the Associated Press reported.
Yang said China will not accept “unwarranted accusations from the U.S. side,” and added that recent events have pushed bilateral ties between the two countries “into a period of unprecedented difficulty” that “has damaged the interests of our two peoples.”
Blinken appeared annoyed at the length of Yang’s statement which went on for 15 minutes, which according to the State Department went beyond the agreed upon two-minute time limit for opening statements.
Blinken shot back stating his recent conversations with leaders in Japan and South Korea paint a completely different picture from the one China was pushing and noted there was “deep satisfaction that the United States is back” and “deep concerns” about China’s actions.
In a statement, the State Department took aim at Yang’s decision to blow past the agreed upon time limit for his opening address, stating: “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance.” It then added: “America’s approach will be undergirded by confidence in our dealing with Beijing — which we are doing from a position of strength — even as we have the humility to know that we are a country eternally striving to become a more perfect union.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. government issued a raft of new actions directed at China including financial sanctions against 24 Chinese officials, something the Chinese delegation brought up and criticized several times during the meeting. “This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests,” said the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi. Other actions undertaken Wednesday included the revoking of licenses for two Chinese-owned telecom operators in the U.S. and issuing subpoenas to several Chinese technology companies over national security concerns.
While ties between the U.S. and China had been tense for most of former president Donald Trump’s tenure, they took a nosedive last year following the global outbreak of Covid-19. Trump publicly blamed China for the pandemic and followed that up with a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions. Washington was further alarmed as Beijing ramped up its military presence in the disputed South China Sea and brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. There have been talks of a reset in ties under the Biden administration, however, the president has indicated several times that he’s not averse to taking a tough stance against China on several issues. Unlike Trump’s trade tariffs, however, Biden has focused on calling out China’s human rights abuses and crackdown against dissent while looking to court allies in the Asia pacific region.
US, China spar in first face-to-face meeting under Biden (Associated Press)